Recipes by Ethnicity: African Recipes
Costa Rican Recipes
Middle Eastern Recipes
United States Recipes
Chili Con Queso
Tres Leches Cake
Mexican cuisine reflects the country. Deep in Mexico's core lies the spirit of its pre-Hispanic peoples. Earthy and indomitable, they shaped the culture of the country. When the Spanish came, saw, and conquered, they cast their own culture,their way of cooking like a gloss over the indigenous. Never quite assimilated, the Spanish elements still have sheen, but the power of Mexico remains in its pre-Hispanic heart.
Reflecting the larger culture, the underpinning of Mexican cuisine lies in the indigenous. The native peoples developed highly sophisticated cooking techniques to utilize a dazzling array of native food.
The Spanish arrived as explorers, but they became the conquistadors by overthrowing the Aztec rulers. A civilization built on the brilliance of early peoples was henceforward to be dominated by Europeans. How did the native foods survive? There is no single answer, no lone chef working to save what he or she thought to be valuable. The answer, perhaps, lies in extreme poverty.
Where poverty is extreme, starvation and malnutrition usually follow. Mexico was rich in foodstuffs that provided sound nutrition. Though the Spaniards never practiced outright slavery, a caste system built rapidly in Mexico. At the bottom were the indigenous peoples, at the top the pure Spanish. Within that structure, food represented the tastes of each caste. Bread made of wheat was the Spanish preference, but the climate of most of Mexico was not suited to raising wheat. Corn remained as the staple, though the northern areas were able to grow wheat. The wheat tortilla developed there and influenced border cooking.
Mexicans were people of the street. Many who had come to the capital slept in the street. These people had to eat and they found the native foodstuffs, prepared as they had been for centuries, for sale in the street. Women wandered the streets with baskets or set up small fires on street corners to sell food. There were grilling stands on every corner. These were hardly the haute cuisine of the day that the elite wanted. This was Mexican cooking and Mexican food at its primitive best, but primitive Mexican food is finer than elsewhere. Would Mexican food survive to become Mexican cuisine?
Within the upper classes, common foods were considered acceptable when eating with family, but not in public. The unwritten message was that these foods were too good to lose, but must only be eaten when no one was looking. Obviously those people who might be looking were also eating the native dishes on the sly.
When cookbooks were first being published in Mexico, the choice of recipes showed disdain for native foods. Though these books might indicate that no one was eating native Mexican food, the audience for those books were the fine Doñas - the ladies at home. All of them had native cooks. The native cooks were generally illiterate and their repertoires were based on recipes inherited from previous generations. The cookbooks were for the lady of the house, the Doña who might have been pleased with her own literacy to the point of self-satisfaction. Though the cookbook disdained tamales as food for the lower order, the lady's native cook was making tamales. And if that lady grew hungry in the street, why, what could a ravenous Doña do but indulge in her secret love for the indigenous foods. Mexican food survived faddish modes of each cuisine imposed on her. Mexican cooking survived.